Diary _as if in a day_ by jianghongl


									                              Basic Relationships
                                       Alan Fiske
                                  with Alan Ehrenhalt

        The puppy barks. I wake up and crawl out of the bed I share with my wife
and two small sons (and with the cat, when she chooses to sleep with us). I go
take the puppy out. It’s not my job, in particular—it’s everybody’s job; whoever
can get out of bed before the dog wakes everyone up is the one who takes the dog
out. He’s a family dog.

        I decide to make some coffee, so I open the refrigerator and choose French
roast. The coffee, like all the food in the kitchen, belongs to all of us, of course.
College roommates keep their food separate, but we’re a family. The kids get up
and start running around getting shoes on and assembling backpacks for school. I
call my five-year old, “Come on, Wyatt, let’s go feed Pogo!” Whoops! His name
isn’t Wyatt, it’s Kai. Wyatt is the youngest. They have distinctly different
personalities but I’m always mixing up their names. I even call the puppy Wyatt
sometimes, I think because I feel a sort of paternal authority over all of them. The
kids get us mixed up as well—sometimes they call me “Mom.”

        Wyatt leans across the table, reaching over to take a raisin out of his sister
Zoé’s cereal. As far as he’s concerned, cereal is communal property, even when
it’s already in the bowl. But he accidentally spills Kai’s water, which pours into
Kai’s lap. So Kai takes Wyatt’s cup and pours it into Wyatt’s lap. An eye for an
eye, a cup for a cup. My wife dries them off and gets them back to their

        She drives the older kids to their school and then goes down to the
cooperative nursery school where it’s our family’s turn to help today. I get in the
car and drive to work, having decided to stop at Starbucks rather than make
another cup of coffee at home to take with me. It costs more at Starbucks, but
their coffee is better than mine, enough to be worth the investment of an extra

c:\docstoc\working\pdf\5a87d130-8f77-4081-8de0-d52080c3464e.doc 7 May 2012

dollar or so. Besides, I’m in a hurry. Once I get into work mode I get to thinking
about efficient use of my time.

        At Starbucks I notice the Madeleine’s and decide to bring one home to my
daughter Zoé when I get back tonight. But if I bring her one, I have to bring
exactly the same one for Kai and Wyatt, too. That’s a problem, because Wyatt
prefers maple oat scones, but I know from experience that treats have to match
exactly. Giving out different ones only leads to envy, and the envy outweighs the
pleasure in the treat – even if all three of them get just what they secretly wanted.
It’s the same thing when I pick them up to fly them over my head like airplanes. If
I start doing it, I have to be willing to do it three times, once (or twice, or three
times) for each. If I don’t, my wife will likely tell me to—reasonably enough. Like
anybody in a functional family, I’m required to be a social calculating machine.
Almost everything I do affects everybody else, and I need to make educated
guesses about what the effects will be.

        I reach the 405 freeway, where I find the traffic is bad. It aggravates me. I
keep thinking about what it’s costing me in terms of work I could be doing; I can’t
afford to waste this time sitting in a traffic jam and getting nothing accomplished.
Sometimes I wish I had joined a car pool and could sit back and relax when it
wasn’t my turn to drive. It would certainly be cheaper than driving alone.

        I get to work and unlock my office. It’s pretty much like everyone else’s
office in the department. The building used to be an undergraduate dorm, and
students get jealous if their rooms are not about the same size. Come to think of it,
Anthropology professors aren’t all that different. Of course, the Dean has a bigger
office—but we let him get away with that.

        I am planning a lecture so I go to the reading room to look up an article in
one of the anthropology journals there. The reading room is a wonderful resource
and a great faculty perk. All of us professors can use it, along with graduate
students; we let undergraduates study there, too, when we’re not having a

meeting. Everyone in the Department has free access to the books and journals
there, but it’s not really open to the public. If people just walked in off the street,
the books wouldn’t be there when we wanted them.

        I find the article I’m looking for and take the journal to the photocopy
room, where I enter my code and copy it to read and mark up. The copy I make
gets charged against my allotment for the year. My colleagues and I all get exactly
the same number of free whacks at the Start button on the department machine. If
I use it too many times, I have to pay out of pocket for each copy. We’re all a little
jealous of the Business School: Over there, we’ve heard, photocopying is like
water from the drinking fountain. Everybody just helps themselves to whatever
they need.

        Everyone in my Department is responsible for teaching five courses a year.
Here, too, there’s a little interdepartmental envy. In Psychology, they only have to
teach three courses. They’re treated alike, but they’re treated better than we are.
Or at least it seems that way. However, I can’t complain: A federal research grant
pays part of my salary, permitting me to “buy out” of some of my teaching load. I
spend more time on research than I do on teaching, which the University
administration likes because the more (and better) research we publish, the higher
the ranking of the University. Not only that, but the federal government pays the
overhead on my research, offsetting the costs of things like reading rooms and
drinking fountains. Right now the overhead rate for UCLA is 53% of direct costs,
and that’s an important chunk of the school’s budget.

        I leave work early to go to my daughter’s soccer game. This is her first
year and she’s still learning the basics. While I watch the game, I think about all
the rules of equality she’s picking up for the first time on the soccer field. All the
kids of both teams are the same age. Every team has the same number of players.
The field is symmetrical. Each side defends a goal for one half, then switches to
defend the other one. Living in our household for six years, Zoé has learned lots
of things, but not these. Some of the rudiments of human relationship – quite a

few, in fact – have to be acquired in a different setting. If we didn’t have soccer,
we’d have some other way of doing it. We always have.

       My wife is already at the soccer field with the boys, and after the game we
all go over to have dinner with the family of one of Zoé’s team mates. As we sit
around the table, I wisely repress the temptation to tell everyone what I am
actually thinking about: I am thinking about the difference between this ritual and
the family dinners I used to eat in the villages of West Africa, during the years I
lived there. Here, we all eat off of separate plates, but the food belongs to
everyone in equal measure. Over there, it’s the opposite. Everyone eats out of a
common pot, but in a carefully defined hierarchy. The first morsel of food are
tossed on the ground and the first few drops from the gourd of beer are poured out
as a libation to ancestors who are buried in the earth. Then the senior man takes a
turn, and on down the line, with the women going last. I ponder would it would be
like to try this in the suburbs of Los Angeles. But I don’t say anything. I don’t
want my family ostracized by the soccer league.

       My friends in Burkina Faso don’t just get to eat before their wives do; they
own their wives. They own their children. The chief owns everyone in the village.
There are rules of equality, but they apply mainly among people the same age, or
wives in plural marriage. An older man will often have at least two or three
wives, and will have to treat them all the same. The wives will take turns cooking,
and in many cases, sleeping with the husband.

       Although the men in these village take pride in the wives they own, they
would be insulted to hear anyone say that they had “bought” them. That would
imply that marriage is nothing more than a market transaction. That isn’t the way
they feel. A good West African marriage is based on bonds deeper than mere cost-
benefit calculation. That’s one issue on which people in the villages of Burkina
Faso and people in the suburbs of southern California are in agreement.. The real
psychological divide is over the idea of marriage as a unity: Here, we get married,
we vow at least metaphorically to merge our identities and become one. In West

Africa, that idea would be ridiculous. Getting married doesn’t make you and your
spouse into partners or teammates; all the rules of village hierarchy that prevail
outside marriage prevail within it. The husband is number one, and no one
questions that.

           My mind snaps back to reality just in time for the serving of dessert. The
kids get served first. Grownups have to wait their turn.

           All my life, ever since I realized that other people existed, I have been
preoccupied with the riddle of human relationships. I thought about it on the
playground, on the basketball court in high school, in the dining hall at Harvard,
and in the villages of West Africa. I think about it at home in Rancho Palos
Verdes, and in the Anthropology Department at UCLA. Thinking about
relationships is my hobby, and it is also my profession.

The Four Elementary Forms of Social Relationships

           And over the course of 50 years or so of speculation and 30 years of
serious research, I have found out something extraordinary. There are four
fundamental choices human beings have in dealing with each other. Not three, or
five, or seventy. Four choices. We can share communally. We can rank on the
basis of authority. We can attempt to match equally. Or we can use ratios (such as

           I believe, and my research confirms, that all human social interaction
essentially derives from this four-way split. Grasp it, and the most important keys
to societal understanding are within reach. Ignore it, and much of this knowledge
will remain inaccessible.

           This idea, which for scholarly purposes I call relational models theory,
applies to the momentous transactions that take place in our lives. It also applies
to the most mundane.

        Think about having a cup of coffee. In my own house or at the home of
my friends, I can just help myself, pouring myself as much coffee as I want,
sharing with others in the framework of “what’s mine is yours.” Or my friend can
get me a cup of coffee in return for the cup of coffee I got for him yesterday, so
we take turns or match small favors for each other. At Starbucks, I buy my coffee,
using price and value as the framework. To my children, however, none of these
principles apply to drinking coffee. To them, coffee is something that only “big
people” are allowed to drink: It is a privilege that goes with authority and social

        What is true of a humble cup of coffee is true of the moral dilemmas
surrounding major policy questions such as human organ donation. Decisions
have to be made, and there are four fundamental ways to make them. The question
is which of the four to use. Should we hold a lottery, giving each person an equal
chance? Should we somehow rank the social importance of potential recipients,
giving priority to those of the highest standing? Should we sell organs to the
highest bidder (and perhaps use the proceeds to pay for the distribution system)?
Or should we there be no shortage of organs, if we expect everyone in a family (or
a local community) to give freely, offering a kidney, say, to anyone in the group
who needs one?

        There are choices within choices, of course. Rather than auction the organs
off for the highest bid, we might calculate survival probabilities, and go on from
there to make a choice on the basis of economic efficiency. But that is still a
pricing decision. The longer I think about these questions – and I have thought
about them a very long time – the clearer it is to me that most possible choices fit
within one of the four fundamental categories: sharing, ranking, matching, or
pricing. Try it yourself. Try to come up with a fifth one. You won’t be able to do

        How could that be? How could the incredible diversity and complexity of
human social life be based on just four relational models? The best way to answer

this is with a couple of other questions. How could four physical forces account
for all interactions in the physical universe? How could four simple chemicals
comprise the entire genetic code of all organisms? As arbitrary as it may seem to
say of any major aspect of life, “There are four of these and no more,” the fact is
that this is the way the universe sometimes works. Underlying structures exist,
they are limited and fixed in number, and they can be combined to create virtually
infinite diversity and complexity. If it is true in physics, and true in
biochemistry—and we know now that it is—it is perfectly plausible in human
social interaction.

        There are good reasons for people to use only a few basic models to
organize most social interaction. If people had specialized cognitive modules for
every social problem, they would be unable to adapt flexibly to new situations.
Furthermore, they would have such enormous brains they couldn’t eat enough
food to fuel them—let alone be born through a human pelvis. Four relational
models that work well for almost every social purpose have enabled our species to
live in every environment on earth, adapting rapidly to changes and new
opportunities. Moreover, social coordination amounts to comparison, and
mathematicians who study the theory of scientific measurement have proved that
only five basic relational structures are both consistent and flexible enough to
permit coherent comparison. For reasons I’ve never understood, the fifth logically
possible relational structure does not seem to be used in social life or scientific
measurement—although I’m still looking for it. The types of measurement that
scientists do use correspond exactly to the basic types of relationships: categorical
(sharing), ordinal (ranking), interval (matching), and ratio (pricing).

        It’s easy to construct prototypes for all four of the relational models.
Sharing is what is going on a romantic relationship or in a tightly knit team on the
playing field. Ranking is the way a military chain of command works. Matching is
the ethos of rotating credit associations, work bees, baby-sitting coops, and
carpools—or vengeance. Pricing is what we do when we buy and sell things,

when we allocate rewards in due proportion to contributions, or when we’re
concerned about efficiency or the ratio of benefits to costs.

        In the real world, social interaction is usually not that simple. Pure types
are the exception. In any complex human institution, all of the models are at
work, alternating and competing with each other. Love is based on sharing, but
plenty of cost-benefit analysis goes on all the time, as every one of us knows. An
army may be based on authority and chain of command, but the little platoons
within it depend on sharing and matching to survive. In the same way that real
objects in the material world are held together by combinations of the four basic
forces in physics, there are four types of bonds in most social relationships and

        The important idea is that these four models, in varying combinations,
govern nearly all human transactions – exchange; distribution and contribution;
the organization of work; the construal or social meanings to objects, land, and
time. They organize ideas about social justice; moral judgment, political
ideology, religious observance and social conflict. They inform responses to
transgression and misfortune. They are the basis of human sociality. This is what
my 30 years as a social scientist have taught me.

        I’ve also learned that these four models make it possible for people to
understand other cultures, because all humans use these models to coordinate
most social activities. But these models also help explain what it is that makes
cultures different. In my travels I’ve had friends in various cultures whose
marriages were organized in the framework of sharing and others whose
marriages were basically ranking, matching, or pricing. Living in different
cultures across Africa I’ve had people give me a goat or a chicken and mean it as
an offer of sale, while in another place it was an act of deferential respect and in
another culture it was meant as an hospitable act of sharing. In other cultures
when people give you a goat they expect you to give them back another goat a few
years later. I’ve joined in making decisions by consensus in Bangladesh where we

shared ideas and reached a common conclusion. (This is also the way Quakers
make decisions, and worship.) In Africa I’ve participated in village councils
where the chief, advised by the elders, made the decisions and delegated authority
to subordinates to carry out his edicts. In the US I’ve participated in innumerable
decisions where each person’s vote matched each other person’s. On other
occasions in this country I’ve been involved in making collective decisions by
calculating cost/benefit ratios, by trying to maximize total utility, or letting the
market allocate scarce resources—three of the many forms of decision-making by

        You don’t need to travel around the world to have seen people motivated
by four basic social motives; you see them every day. Sometimes people want to
belong, to be part of something beyond themselves; then they emphasize what
they have in common—even if what they have in common is alcoholism or the
death of a child. This is part of the feeling I had as a Peace Corps Volunteer—
working as a team. Some people feel this kind of identification with UCLA (or
wherever they go to school). Sometimes people want to look up to someone (or
Someone) greater than they are, to know that they are under the protection and
guidance of someone who knows more and can stand up for them. This
motivation can lead people into some kinds of marriages, into religious worship,
into a mentorship relationship or into the armed forces. I had this feeling working
under inspired leaders directing my work in tuberculosis control in Malawi, and
later eradicating smallpox in Zaire. Conversely, it feels good to have others look
up to you, to admire and respect you. That’s one of the minor but gratifying
aspects of being a teacher.

        Sometimes people want to be distinct but even, matching themselves up to
others as peers. People like to have others over for dinner and be invited back, or
give each other birthday presents; and if you buy a new sports car, I’m going to be
envious unless I can get one, too. One of the strongest experiences of this kind
that I ever had was threshing grain with my neighbors in a village in Burkina

Faso: working synchronously to the beat of drums behind us, each of us raised our
flails over our heads and swung them down in unison, over and over. Pricing is a
familiar motive to every American; we all want to earn as much as we can, get the
best deals we can when we buy something, make a profit when we sell our houses,
and see our stock portfolio go up. Sometimes the transaction itself is satisfying:
you just want to go buy something!

       It’s not just that we want these kinds of relationships, we need them to
realize our human nature. But different people experience these four motives to
different degrees, and the depth of each kind of need depends on whether you
already have satisfying, intense, and regular interactions of each kind. However,
it seems to me that communal and ranking needs are the deepest and most
necessary. Matching is important to most of us sometimes, too, but (in traditional
societies at least) many people seem to get along pretty well without needing to
engage in much overt pricing. Cultural values about these types of interaction are
quite variable, at any rate: while Americans (like some hunting and gathering
cultures) distrust overly explicit ranking, in many African and Asian societies
hierarchy is the core social value. Many traditional cultures disdain buying and
selling; a civilized person might have to interact this way with strangers from
other cultures but never within his own community. In many African villages
such as the one in Burkina Faso where I lived for two years, selling or renting land
is unthinkable, and no one ever works for wages.

       These four relational models encompass more than social needs. They are
frameworks for our moral judgments. While we don’t like to put a price on good
works, we often think it right that people pay a penalty in proportion to the wrong
they have done, and we have strong moral intuitions about rewarding people in
due proportion to what they deserve or have earned. If the hospice board is giving
good-bye presents to retiring volunteers, a woman who has volunteered for 40
years deserves something more than the woman who has been there only one year.
In addition, we regard equality as a fundamental moral principle: each person is

entitled to equal opportunity and the same treatment under the law. In other
contexts, we feel that it is right to respect seniority and age, and many religious
people define righteousness as doing what God wills, often under the guidance of
religious authorities. Beyond these three moral standards, everyone acknowledges
some ethical duty to care and compassion for others: ideally, we should
empathically share everyone’s pain and treat each person’s problems as our
collective responsibility. In practice, I actually feel this sense of empathy and
responsibility for my family and to some extent for my closest friends, maybe
even my neighbors, but it’s hard to feel this way about strangers far away—though
I know, ethically, I should. You can think of these relational models as the four
kinds of implicit rules for social interaction.

        Humans who don’t apply any of these moral-relational frameworks can be
callously cruel to others, treating other people as if they were objects like rocks,
trees, or insects—merely means or impediments to material ends. Sociopaths do
this, but so do normal people under extreme conditions: when the bullets are
flying you may duck behind a rock, a tree, a dead body, or a living body. Normal
people also treat strangers like this when their culture does not offer paradigms for
applying relational models to out-groups.

        You can think of these relational models as the four kinds of implicit rules
for social interaction. People can get very angry when you violate these tacit
frameworks, as my colleague, Phillip Tetlock of Ohio State University, points out.
This anger appears to be one major source of human violence. Furthermore,
however it starts, conflict is usually structured in these same four ways. Tit for tat
vengeance (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth) is matching aggression.
Genocide and ethnic cleansing is the negative side of sharing: the killers want to
purify their society so that it is composed only of people who share some putative
primordial essence. Treating everyone in some outgroup as equivalent is another
manifestation of sharing: “they” are all the same, so if some of them have killed
some of us, we’ll kill any of them we can get to. The desire to be accepted as a

member of a street gang with a shared identity may lead youths to kill members of
a rival gang.

       Ranking generates aggression when a leader asserts the right to rule over
people who resist that rule: think of Napoleon, Hitler, or Pol Pot—or the mayhem
potentially involved in a coup d’etat or a dictator’s suppression of opponents.
Pricing results in violence when people treat others as commodities (such as
slaves) or purely as means of production (think of working conditions early in the
Industrial Revolution). Pricing can also be a framework for policy in fighting
wars, as is evident when “kill ratios” are the standard for success in battle. The
point to remember is that most violence is socially organized.

       In contrast, some human violence results from the lack of any relationship.
In every society we see that sometimes people casually kill annoying insects and
dispatch two-legged mammals with whom they have no social bonds. People aim
nuclear warheads at “targets” with whom they have no relationship. You don’t do
this to people with whom you have a relationship—unless you perceive them to
have grossly violated it.

What’s the Scientific Evidence?

       Twelve years ago, I got to work with my colleague and friend, Nick
Haslam of the New School for Social Research, to begin testing this theory. We
started by looking to see what we could learn from the errors that people naturally
make in everyday social life. For example, there are the confusions that occur
when we seem to mistake one relative or friend or acquaintance for another. I call
my youngest son Kai, when I know perfectly well his name is Wyatt. Or a boss
remembers asking an employee to perform some job, when she actually assigned
the task to a different employee. Or a man meaning to telephone his wife dials his
sister by mistake.

       There is a rich psychological literature to the effect that these are
“Freudian slips,” indicative of wishes hidden somewhere beneath the level of our
consciousness. I’m not so sure about that. What I do know, because the studies
show it, is that these mistakes involve mixing up people with whom we have
similar relationships. As we explored mistakes of this kind, we found several
families in which parents sometimes called their children by the dog's name (good
families to live in if you're a dog), and many parents who routinely went through
the list of their children's names in search of the correct one, calling off each in
turn until they reached the name they wanted. What we found in our research was
this: If my relationship with you is based primarily on authority – on ranking – I
may confuse you with someone else who stands in the same relation to me. I will
mix you up with another one of my subordinates. I will not accidentally call you
by the name of someone with whom my relations are based on sharing, or pricing.
I will not confuse you with my brother-in-law, or the person who sold me a used
Volvo. Another kind of confusion occurs when you get mixed up about which
person you interacted with; we studied these, too. For example, people reported
cases where they delegated a task to a subordinate but the next day asked another
subordinate whether they had completed the work. Or you say to someone, “That
was quite a game, wasn’t it!”—and then, when you get a blank look, remember
that you were playing basketball with someone else. We also studied mis-directed
actions, such as telephoning the wrong person or driving to the wrong person’s
house; one subject even reported giving a birthday present to the wrong person!
Both of these kinds of errors, too, involve confusing people with whom you have
the same type of relationship. For example, a few people reported instances of
reaching out to hold someone’s hand without realizing who it was. As you can
imagine, they told us that they usually hold the hand of individuals (like sisters)
with whom they have communal relationships, and they also had communal
relationships with the people they reached out to (like a sorority sister), although
they didn’t mean to hold their hands! In addition to Americans, we found the
same patterns in all three kinds of social errors of members of four cultural groups

living in the United States: Bengalis, Koreans, Chinese, and Vai (from Liberia and
Sierra Leone). It came out the same in every case.

       Suppose you've just heard exciting news, so you go to call your mother,
but then decide to call your husband instead. In a second study, we asked people
to record the intentional substitutions like this that they made in their everyday
relational lives. We wanted to know what happened when they had planned to do
something with someone but then switched to someone else. Perhaps they
intended to go to a movie with a particular companion but then learned that the
person they originally chose was unavailable. Or perhaps they simply changed
their minds about whom they wished to spend the evening with. What we found
was that people select social alternates with whom they have the same kind of

       Then we tried a different sort of experiment, asking subjects to make a list
of everyone with whom they had interacted during the previous month, as they
might if they were sending out holiday greeting cards or wedding announcements.
It turns out that people don’t form clusters according to traditional role terms such
as “friends” or “employees,” or by individual attributes such as gender, race or
age. A good predictor of these naming clusters was the four relational models:
sharing, ranking, matching and pricing. People jotted down a set of names of
people with whom they had equality relationships, then another cluster of people
with whom they had pricing relationships, and so on. People also form clusters
according to traditional role terms such as “friends” or “employees,” or by
individual attributes such as gender, race or age. But it is striking that people use
something more than these conscious categories—they use the relational models
without even being aware of them! So people couldn’t tell you why recalling their
sister makes them think of a co-worker and then a neighbor and a friend from
college; they are unaware that in their memory they categorize these equality
relationships together.

        In other studies we have found that people also intuitively use the models
to judge similarities among their relationships and to classify them intuitively.
For example, we just asked people to group the people they knew according to the
ways they relate to them. People put their relationships with their father, their
boss, and their professor in one group; they also put together their lover, their
mother, and the guys in their platoon during the war go together, even though they
can’t explain just what these relationships have in common.

       My own fieldwork among traditional peoples in West Africa and
fieldwork in Papua New Guinea by my colleague, Harriet Whitehead, along with a
careful reading of scores of ethnographies written by other anthropologists, have
convinced us that people everywhere organize their social life in terms of these
relational models. Field researchers have found that these models also organize
the interactions—and the value judgments—of corporate owners, managers, and
employees; of business school students; and of string quartets. A colleague,
Debra Connelley of the University at Buffalo, studied the conflict among people
in a large corporation. The white male managers, who had been running the
company for a long time, perceived it in communal terms, as a family where
everyone should just pitch in and work for the common good. Black employees
didn’t see things this way; they wanted a system where benefits and promotions
were strictly equal. Women employees wanted pay and promotion according to
the quality and quantity of work they did: they wanted a pricing system. Each of
these perspectives led to distinct expectations which the other groups, using the
perspectives of other models, persistently violated. The result, often enough, was
frustration, resentment, and a sense of injustice or being let down.

       It’s not just individuals who interact in these ways; groups, organizations,
and governments relate to each other using the same four models—naturally
enough, since people run organizations. Another colleague, Blair Sheppard at
Duke, has been studying strategic relations between corporations. He argues that
firms relate to each other using different models, depending on the nature of their
interdependence and the trust between them. Communal relations among firms,

for example, reflect mutual interdependence and deep trust. Other studies have
highlighter the differences in the models different people use in different contexts.
Another colleague, Harris Sondak at University of Utah, found that business
students like pricing, preferring to bid for the best classes. But professional string
quartets rely primarily on sharing; they make decisions by consensus and have a
sense of common substance and purpose.

       If you think about it for a moment, you can also see two of the models in
human relations with deities. In many religions, such as the Judaism reflected in
the Old Testament, humans are loyal subordinates of an all mighty superior being.
Other religions, such as Buddhism, aim at transcending human individuality and
merging the self in a timeless, ultimate communion. A different kind of
communion is a core element of New Testament Christianity as well. Religions
seem to present images of perfect communal and ranking relationships that cannot
be achieved with other humans. A few religions also contain elements of
matching with supernatural beings, such as my West African friends’ relationships
with the elf-like beings who, they said, lived around the villages, giving their
children nightmares and causing mischief if people didn’t leave offerings of honey
and sesame for them.

       My colleagues at UCLA and I are now embarking on studies to discover
just how the four relational models operate in the brain. No one knows how the
brain generates social action or coordinates interaction, so we are in uncharted
territory. But we think that there are specialized mechanisms in the human neural
system for at least three of the relational models. It looks as though for hundreds
of thousands of years humans have pooled their risks, shared information and
food, and organized joint defense of resources (somewhat like bees, wolves, and
the African animals called wild dogs). What I’m saying is that sharing is adaptive,
in terms of survival and reproductive fitness, so I think there is an evolutionary
foundation for sharing relationships—though at the same time human sharing is
complexly and flexibly shaped by human culture.

          In a similar way, virtually all mammals and birds who live in groups have
established dominance hierarchies with a linear order of priority of access to
important resources. And there are clear adaptive advantages of the deferred
exchange and turn-taking that matching permits. I think there is a more or less
specialized biological basis for pricing relationships as well, but not everyone
would regard this as obvious. Pricing is presumably the most recent of these forms
of relationship to emerge, and in traditional societies few interactions are overtly
organized this way (mostly interactions with strangers and outsiders). Working
out the evolutionary, neurological, and developmental biology of these models
seems to us the obvious next step for research, and one that stands a fair chance of
helping us understand why humans use these models for practically everything

          Our plans for studying the social brain are straightforward. We will put
subjects into a functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) machine that produces
three-dimensional images of the brain. The images show the oxygen in the blood
flowing to areas of neural activity. Then we will ask the subjects to think about
their own relationships of each kind. To pick out the truly social component of
the brain activity, we have to subtract images representing neural activity while
subjects remember non-social aspects of the same events. We also plan to have
view videotapes of each kind of interaction, subtracting the non-social component
of the brain activity revealed in images recorded while subjects watch videotapes
of people thinking out loud while they program a computer. Our goal is to
discover how the brain carries out its social tasks, so we can begin to figure out
how the brain circuits for these capacities evolved, how they develop in children,
and how they malfunction when the brain is injured or chemically damaged.

          Let's say I'm right. Let's say that, however odd it might seem, almost all
human social life really does translate into four relational models. What difference
does that make? What have we learned that can help us conduct our lives with a
little more reasonableness, and a little less pain? I think we've learned quite a bit.

       What is crucial isn't just that there are four ways in which we relate to each
other. It's that misunderstandings and conflict in social life occur because two of
us are using different models, or using the same model in different ways.
Interacting with co-workers, spouses or neighbors, we take it for granted that the
other person is using the same model we are. Often we are wrong. One member of
a work team assumes implicitly that it is a matching operation—each person on
the team should contribute equally. But others assume the task is a shared
responsibility of the group as a whole, so everyone should simply pitch in and do
whatever is necessary. The sharers are offended when the matchers keep precise
track of how much each person does. The matchers get angry when the sharers fail
to take regular turns, or when one sharer does extra work and the matchers don't
try to keep up. Everyone is doing something reasonable and legitimate, but people
offend each other because they are operating with different models. It doesn’t
occur to them that the others have different unstated assumptions about how to

       The same thing occurs in marriages. One spouse is a pricer. He assumes
household repairs and cooking should be done in the most efficient way possible.
Whoever can do a task quickest ought to take care of it. The other spouse is a
matcher. She assumes work should be divided equally into matching tasks. The
pricer gets irritated when the matcher tries to take a turn doing jobs she can’t do
quickly or well. It seems to him inefficient and silly. The matcher is hurt that the
pricer doesn’t take turns cooking and doesn’t appreciate her trying to pitch in on
electrical repairs. Both are trying to be responsible (acting in accord with the
model they take for granted.) Neither can understand why the other one fails to do
what makes sense. Or suppose an experienced member of a work team tries to
direct the others, while they assume that everyone should have an equal say—
what’s going to happen? Or the opposite problem may occur: some people keep
waiting for directions from someone they assume should take charge, while that
person assumes that, since they are not being paid for the job, they don’t have to
take any responsibility for it. In this, and in countless other situations of ordinary

human affairs, a little relational model theory would go a long way toward
eliminating unnecessary conflict.

       When people persistently use the models in odd ways, they have chronic
difficulty getting along with others. When these difficulties are so severe as to be
debilitating, clinical psychologists diagnose them as “personality disorders.” My
research suggests that it might be more productive to start by with the idea that
these difficulties result when a person consistently chooses a relational models
that others find inappropriate. If someone tries to control everyone and expects to
have everyone’s attention, respect, agreement, and praise all the time, they are
going to run into a lot of trouble. If someone needs to be extremely intimate as
soon as they meet you, and quickly comes to demand a kind of romantic
communal relationship that only exists in fairy tales, they will be perennially
disappointed and angry. Conversely, imagine a grown-up who can’t figure out
how to take turns, reciprocate favors, and match the social invitations they receive
with the ones they offer to others. This person is not going to have a satisfying
social life. We’re studying this. In one study we asked people about satisfaction,
success, and problems in knowing how to behave in each of the four types of
relationships. We also asked about the importance of each kind of relationship,
because people can also have troubles if they have excessively strong needs for
specific types of relationships. Our results showed that people who said they had
extreme needs for communal relationships and people with persistent difficulties
in communal relationships reported symptoms of a syndrome called dependent
personality disorder. People who indicated difficulties with ranking relationships
reported symptoms of a diagnosis called avoidant personality disorder. Subjects
who reported difficulties in egalitarian relationships and people with extreme
needs for communal relationships had symptoms of borderline personality
disorder. People with extraordinary needs for ranking relationships had symptoms
of narcissistic and schizotypal personality disorder, while people with extreme
needs for pricing relationships reported symptoms of something called paranoid

personality disorder (not to be confused with paranoid schizophrenia). We are
now conducting a more elaborate study to verify these and other results.

        In a similar way, it makes sense to argue that amoral people who have no
compunctions about using and deceiving others—the ones called “sociopaths”—
are people who may understand the models perfectly but don’t care about them.
They play the roles required, but the relationships themselves have no intrinsic
meaning or value to them. One sociopath with no medical training moved into a
town, set up a medical practice, and wrote prescriptions for some time, enjoying
the money and the social rank accorded to him as a physician without any concern
about the suffering of his patients. Other sociopaths are confidence men, acting
like true friends or lovers until they reap the material benefits of other’s trust. A
large proportion of prison inmates are sociopaths who have robbed, raped, or
killed, unhindered by any compassion and without experiencing any shame, guilt
or remorse. Compassion is the emotional component that normal people feel in
communal relationships at the suffering of someone with whom they feel
something in common. Shame is what normal people feel when they violate a
communal relationship and guilt is the normal consequence of violating a ranking
relationship. Sociopaths seem to understand these models but lack any of the
emotions, motives, or moral commitments that normally are intrinsic to

        There is a larger point that emerges from this research: Human nature is
social. That may not sound like a very original observation, inasmuch as Aristotle
made it convincingly 2300 years ago, but it needs to be made again for the 21st
century. Social scientists, especially economists and behaviorists, have come to
assume in recent years that humans are by nature selfish, individualistic, and
materialistic. Relational models theory demonstrates more convincingly than ever
that this is not the case. Humans depend on social relationships for their well
being. None of us can survive for long, let alone reproduce, without forming more
or less sustained, trusting interactions.

       More than that: We can be confident in saying something much more
precise than Aristotle knew: Sharing, ranking, matching, and pricing are elements
of human nature. People fulfill their natures by belonging, by participating in
something greater than their individuality, by sharing aspects of themselves with
others. Humans want to belong to a family, team, club, or nation, even if it costs
them a lot to do so. Most people want someone (or Someone) above them,
someone who knows what is right and who looks out for them; most people also
wish to take responsibility for juniors who look up to them and follow their
direction. Third, most people enjoy, appreciate and understand exercises in
matching: turn-taking: getting and giving presents or dinner parties, buying rounds
of beer, playing games and sports. All the individuals I have ever known have
compared themselves himself to peers and sought to match at least some of what
their peers have or do. In other situations pricing feels necessary, meaningful,
even fulfilling: everyone wants to get returns in proportion to what they have paid
out, to get the just proportion they are due. People sometimes care a lot about
getting the best bargain they can find or simply need to feel that they are getting a
reasonable rate of return on what they are contributing. We also see human need
for pricing when people are concerned about efficiency, rational allocation of
resources, or the utilitarian moral maxim of “the greatest good for the greatest
number.” People are inherently sociable, in four different ways.

       Sociable does not necessarily mean pleasant or nice. Sharing, ranking,
matching and pricing all take on horrible forms. Drives to purify the shared
essence of a community may result in genocide or ethnic cleansing; in some parts
of the world the need to maintain the shared honor of a family leads to killing a
daughter who has fornicated or even been raped. Devout believers think they are
obeying the authority of the gods by sacrificing virgins, burning heretics, or
blowing up airplanes. Loyal soldiers commit acts of atrocity in obedience to
superior officers. Matching generates endless rounds of blood-feud revenge.
Slavery, child labor, and prostitution are all driven by the pricing model.

       The truth is that the most rewarding social relationships inevitably have
noxious aspects: Envy is a direct corollary of matching, for example. Sharing an
aspect of the self with others makes one vulnerable, so that the most committed of
lovers can hurt each other most deeply, or feel the greatest pollution when
betrayed. The first year I lived in an African village I was enthralled by the
sharing I saw: These extremely poor people shared with each other virtually all
land, labor, food, water, tools, living space, rituals, and religious practices. They
seemed to have little space left for themselves as individuals. But when I learned
the language well and probed more deeply into my village friends’ social lives and
attitudes, I discovered that everyone was deeply distrustful of almost everyone
else. People felt vulnerable to each other, believing that anyone—even the most
agreeable aunt or sister in-law—might be a witch: a spiritual cannibal who might
kill them out of simple carnivorous greed. The nicest neighbor (or kinsman) could
turn out to be a sorcerer bent on committing murder out of pure spite because he
resented your having something he lacked. Whenever someone fell seriously ill,
rituals were conducted to determine who was responsible. Then these gracious,
generous, hospitable villagers abruptly drove into exile a former friend, neighbor,
in-law or kinsperson.

       For better or worse, though, sharing was the dominant relational model in
the villages of west Africa. It was not the only model, of course; much of life
revolved around ranking and matching as well. What was not so evident, at least
not in may domains where we would expect it, was pricing. No one in the village
ever paid anyone to work for them. When there was too much work for one
family, another family helped out. Land was scarce, but village land could not be
bought. You could build your house anywhere if you merely asked the person who
was farming there. People knew what pricing was -- there were markets where
people sold a small proportion of their farm produce and craft. And some men
traveled abroad to work for wages -- but the scope in which the pricing model
operated was very limited. This, despite sixty years of strenuous, often brutal

efforts of colonial governments to try to force African villagers to participate in
the market economy.

       Pricing is slowly working its way across the village cultures of West
Africa, and, as we all know, it is coming to occupy a larger and larger portion of
our lives in the developed world. Countless activities that took place in the realm
of sharing and ranking a generation ago have moved over to the realm of pricing.
Child care and milk for infants are now widely sold and even human eggs, sperm,
child bearing, and adoptive children are for sale. All around the world, people
increasingly sell and purchase things that they used to produce for their own
families and share with neighbors: food, clothing, housing, furniture,
transportation, medicine and medical care, psychological counseling, information
and skills, songs and stories, toys, and entertainment. Think of the differences
between our lives and the lives of our great, great grandparents just a century ago.
Sharing and ranking seem to be diminishing and pricing seems to be spreading at
increasing rates. Is there any limit—or will we soon be putting a price on

       Yet there are some trends in the opposite direction. To everyone’s
surprise, most of the Internet has turned into a commons—especially the World
Wide Web. On the web, everyone who has some information they want to
share—something they are proud of or a point of view they want to spread—
creates a web page which everyone else is welcome to use as much as they like.
Indeed, the more people come to a web page, the better! The cables, routers, and
servers are shared by everyone who uses e-mail, too. We share these resources as
we use broadcast television and radio, highways, parks, police and fire
departments, or public schools. It’s true, web pages and e-mail often do carry ads,
and there are many commercial web pages and e-mail messages. Pricing is alive
and well. We contribute to pay for the Internet and schools in a variety of modes,
including proportional taxation that represents a basic form of pricing. But we
share the use of them. What’s striking is how computer networking technology
lends itself to sharing on a scale never before seen in human history.

          As the world become more interdependent, we are gradually recognizing
that all humans share a common fate. This realization was what motivated the
US, USSR, Britain, France, Canada, Japan, and other developed countries to work
with the World Health Organization to eradicate smallpox in the sixties and
seventies. Public health officials realized that no country, no community, could
be safe from smallpox as long as anyone anywhere was infected. (True, they
justified the investment in the smallpox program to their governments in cost-
benefit pricing terms, but that’s what legislators and policy makers understand.) I
remember, participating in the eradication program in the Congo and Bangladesh,
the extraordinary sense of international teamwork, the camaraderie we felt as part
of a worldwide effort. Now all humanity shares a world free from smallpox for
the first time in history. Environmental issues such as pollution and the
possibility of ozone depletion and global warming have brought this realization of
common threat and shared responsibility to broader public awareness. But the
AIDS epidemic has made our shared fates and our common task inescapably

          Even when we share benefits, sharing has its practical problems,
sometimes prohibitive ones. When people share in using (or consuming) a
resource but do not identify with the common good enough to contribute to
producing or preserving the resource, they can quickly use it up—or destroy it.
This is what Garrett Hardin called “the tragedy of the commons,” such as when
everyone regards whales as a shared resource and hunts them to extinction. Game
theorists and economists, building on Hardin’s insight, point out the temptation to
“free riding.” If everyone else is vaccinating their children against polio, my
children would be protected from exposure to polio without running the minute
risk of illness from being vaccinated. To solve this dilemma, everyone must put
the common good ahead of their individual concerns, or else we need to have a
law requiring vaccination.

          As I write these words, my wife comes in to the study to report smoke
billowing from the hills above our house. We begin hearing the roar of the relay

of water-carrying helicopters flying overhead, and the scream of fire truck sirens.
I go outside to watch to yellow-coated firefighters carrying hoses up the steep,
landslide tumbled hillside. They battle the windblown brush fire together. I begin
to think about what I need to do for my family and my neighbors if the wind
begins to blow the fire in our direction. A fire is a shared hazard—shifting winds
could blow it toward anyone’s house, and no one is safe until the fire is out. The
work of firefighting has many facets: the firefighters work under the direction of
their captains and chief in a ranking mode, while they receive salaries and benefits
in a pricing mode. But firefighting is fundamentally and irreducibly a shared task:
extinguishing a fire is a collective responsibility and a shared danger; no one’s job
is done until the fire is out. Like AIDS.

        I watch as the firefighters and aerial water drops progressively contain the
flames until only one last tower of smoke remains, coming out of the bushes
around a distant utility pole. The helicopters drop more water on these flames and
I return to the house, thankful that the fire remained far away from us. The
electricity is out.

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